SF landlords might be forced to rent to ex-cons

July 7, 2011 6:39:14 PM PDT
Some landlords in San Francisco are concerned about a proposal they say would force them to rent to ex-cons. The city's Human Rights Commission wants to change city codes as a way to keep former offenders on the right track.

According to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission nearly seven million Californians have either been arrested or convicted for a misdemeanor or felony. Commissioners say that record makes it hard for them to find housing, but this proposed solution is meeting resistance from some property owners.

Lafayette Thomas works in the garden outside San Francisco's San Bruno Jail. He was just released from the facility in January and now desperately needs housing, but says no one will rent to him.

"They want to do a credit report and a police report and it's just hard to get housing. They see you have a felony... and you never get a call back," said Thomas.

The city's Human Rights Commission wants to add people like Thomas, those with arrest or conviction records, to categories, like race, religion, and sexual orientation when it comes to prohibiting housing discrimination.

"What we're doing is giving people a chance to turn their lives around," said Theresa Sparks, executive director of the commission. "We're not going to force somebody down someone's throat if there's really a legitimate reason, but just because someone was arrested five years ago or 10 years ago and haven't done it again... Yeah, that's not a reason not to rent to them."

The new proposal has the support of the Sheriff's Department, D.A. and others who say studies show stable housing and employment reduce recidivism, but landlords are talking about suing.

"The city of San Francisco is again trying to legislate in an arena that's controlled by the federal government," said Janan New, executive director of the SF Apartment Association.

New believes the federal law is already clear.

"You cannot discriminate against people when they come to rent an apartment under the current federal fair housing laws. In my opinion it would make it a moot point," said New.

But this father of four says he keeps getting turned away.

"It's hard. You got to just keep looking, keep trying," said Thomas.

The Human Rights Commission's anti-discrimination proposal covers employment as well as housing for former offenders. There will be two forums later this month at city hall so the public can weigh in.

Human Rights Commission Meetings
Wednesday, July 20, 2011, 4:00 - 7:00 p.m.
San Francisco City Hall, Room 263
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA 94102

Monday, July 25, 2011, 4:00 - 7:00 p.m.
San Francisco City Hall, Room 400
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA 94102

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